The MOST Theological Collection: Outline of Christology

"XII. The Hidden Life"


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After the finding in the Temple, He went to Nazareth and was obedient. This was really the upside down family. The greatest, God Himself, obeyed His own creatures. The least of the three, St. Joseph - though wonderfully great too - gave orders to the other two, to Jesus and to his wife Mary, the greatest mere human person who ever lived or ever will - for Jesus is not a mere human person.

Why did He choose to spend all these years, up to age 30, in an obscure village, working as a carpenter, when He had come to teach and save the world? He wanted to show the value of doing God's will in ordinary things.

Can we really "serve" God? He gains nothing from our "service." Imagine a monastic community of 100, serving God in their way for a century, and also an active community, serving Him in their way too for a century. At the end of the century we come with a ledger to record what God has gained. Nothing at all. Yet He wants us to obey, for two reasons: (1) His Holiness loves all that is objectively good; objective goodness wills that creatures obey their Creator, children their Father. (2) He wants to lavish His benefits on us. St. Irenaeus put it well (Against Heresies 4. 14. 1): "In the beginning, God formed Adam, not because He stood in need of man, but that He might have someone to receive His benefits." He being Generosity itself, loves to give. But that is in vain if we are not open to receive His gifts. His commandments are really instructions on how to be open to receive. Further, the opposite would be bad for us: there are penalties in the very nature of things, e.g., a hangover after a drunk, or, very likely, a failed or loveless marriage after quite a bit of premarital sex (for it is not love, but just chemistry that develops in that situation). St. Augustine put it well (Confessions 1. 12): "Every disordered soul is its own punishment." The love of our Father wants to steer us away from these things that are bad for us.

Since He wants so much to give to us, why did He not just create us in Heaven, without any trial period? Because that is not in accord with good order, would not fulfill the objective order of goodness, of what is right in itself. Again we quote St. Thomas ( paraphrase of I. 19. 5. c): "God wills one things to be in place to serve as a title for another, even though the title does not move Him."

A life lived merely in an ordinary way, in accord with His commands, serves that purpose very well. So Jesus Himself willed to spend abut 30 out of 33 years in that kin of life.

Further, the family is a wonderfully designed institution to lead us to grow spiritually, and thus be capable of greater happiness forever, being able to take in more fully the vision of God in Heaven. Paul VI wrote to the 13th National Congress of the Italian Feminine Center (Feb. 12, 1966, The Pope Speaks 11, 1966, p. 10): "Christian marriage and the Christian family demand a moral commitment. They are not an easy way of Christian life, even though the most common, the one which the majority of the children of God are called to travel. Rather it is a long path toward sanctification."

To understand this, we need to take note that a great development is needed to make a person mature. We begin life as babies, completely enclosed in a shell of self. How do we get from there to the point of being sincerely interested in the welfare of another for the other's sake (that is what love really is)? It is a long path. Very soon, baby begins to play with other little ones, and soon makes a sad discovery: "That little fellow thinks he has some rights!. I am the only one who does!." In other words, they fight over a toy. Many such incidents begin to make a dent in the shell of self. Some years pass, to around age 9. At that point little boys have no use for little girls - and vice versa. So they run from each other. This is a providential move to help each to develop their own characteristics to prepare for the next stage, which arrives when hormones begin to bubble. Suddenly little boy sees some little girl - which one is not predictable. He sees she is "wonderful". For the hormones in him put a rosy light around her. Much the same happens to little girls. Now psychologically, love develops in three steps: (1) We see something fine in another. (2) That leads one to wish that that fine other may be well off. (3) If the reaction is strong, the person is not content to wish, rather, he or she wants to act to bring abut the happiness of the other. - But, suppose the other seems not just fine, but "wonderful." This powerfully tends to develop love, which we said is a desire for the wellbeing of another for the other's sake. But we notice love lies essentially in the spiritual will. Feelings merely tend to go along with love in the human condition. There is also a second factor that tends to bring real love. It is called somatic resonance. Here is what that term means: Since we are made of matter and spirit, body and soul, and the two are put together so closely that they form just one person - because of this, if I have a condition on either side, then for normal running there ought to be a parallel condition on the other side. When that parallel falls on the bodily side, we call it somatic: somatic resonance. Love, then, is in the spiritual will, but normally in the human condition a feeling goes along with it, as the somatic resonance. However, that resonance, since it consists in biochemistry producing feeling, develops automatically at a certain age. If only the person plays the game the way our Father has designed it, these two processes will develop real love.

However, it is quite possible to foil this wonderful process, in two ways. If a person uses sex for private entertainment, masturbation, that puts him or her back into the shell of self, and gives a poor forecast for success in marriage. Secondly, if two use each other for sensory pleasure, that is hardly likely to develop real love. For in real love each is concerned for the wellbeing of the other for the other's sake. But in premarital sex it is practically the opposite. Each one uses the other. And worse, they put each other into such a state that if death should surprise one of them, that one would never be happy again forever, would be everlastingly wretched! That is closer to hate than to love.

So real love will hardly develop in that condition. But, it will feel the same as real love, for the chemistry is just the same whether love is or is not present in the spiritual will. The sad result of premarital sex is, then, very likely a failed or loveless marriage.

But if the two play the game the way our Father has designed it, it will develop real love. It will get them far out of the shell of self - instead, they are deeply interested in the well-being of the other for the other's sake. This is not easy. For male and female psychology are so different that as a Doctor once told me, they are as different as they can be and still belong to the same species. Hence even with an ideal pair, each one can say honestly: I need to give in much over half the time to make this work. To do it is to grow spiritually, to mature, to become capable of real happiness here in this life, and in the life to come.

And babies: the mother may have discomfort and pain in bringing them to light. But if she sees that too is part of Our Father's plan for holiness, it will all take on a different light. The babies themselves: they are very cute and enjoyable part of the time, quite the opposite at other times. A monk in his monastery may get up in the small hours to make a holy hour. A parent with a young child may have to make a different kind of a holy hour - we call it holy, for it is part of God's plan. The monk knows that when the clock as turned 60 minutes, he can go back to bed. The parent does not know when.

Again, beautiful unselfishness develops. One insurance commercial said: When you have children, their goals become your goals! Not to mention the financial sacrifice involved - again, part of Our Father's plan.

So the family is indeed a marvelous plan of our Father. Jesus showed His high esteem by spending so many years in a family that seemed ordinary, doing very ordinary carpenter's work. But that work was aimed at making possible the continuation of the marvelous structure that Our Father designed in a family. Hence that work was holy.

These things do Him no good - but they are a powerful engine of good for us, they make us capable of receiving the good things He generously wants to give. So He is very pleased to be able to give to us. And at the same time, what objective Holiness calls for is fulfilled.